Friday, 18 July 2014

Various thoughts on free-agency frenzy, and how the Canadiens remodeled their team on July 1.

1)  I thought Brian Gionta would find a job somewhere for a decent two-year deal, but the specific circumstances of Buffalo, with a team squarely looking to the future and trying to reach the cap-floor, and it being close to his hometown, were very fortunate for him. It inflated the worth and term of his deal.

And they were fortunate for Marc Bergevin’s team and their plan, that they could offload Josh Gorges’ contract, cleanly. Apparently Brad Treliving of Calgary was approaching teams with crazy contracts they were trying to get rid of, notably Phoenix with Mike Ribeiro’s deal, and telling them he’d take it off their hands, along with their first-round pick. His advances were rejected, but he was being serious, and the teams considered his proposals as such.

So that we had two teams in Toronto and Buffalo who were ready and able to absorb the four more years on Josh’s contract was a lucky bounce for us. Toronto was looking for a change of leadership in their dressing room, Buffalo was looking for mentorship. We got a second-round pick out of it.

I thought we were married to Josh, there was no easy was to divorce him. Instead we get a clean break, a better fit on defence for our team, a break in the logjam on the left side, and an extra pick. Nice.

2) Not to belabour the point, I liked Josh, the person, but the trade took care of so many issues:

- it reduces salary mass of team
- it rids us of a problematic long-term deal
- it cleared out one of too many lefties on blue line
- it allows Alexei Emelin to switch over to his preferred left side, which will mean he’ll play better, hit more, be more comfortable passing the puck
- it allows room for growth and development of Jarred Tinordi and Nathan Beaulieu
- it provides us with better balance on the ice, a probable lineup with three LD, three RD
- it yields better allocation of dollars on the team, instead of two #5 defencemen earning $4M.

3)  I wondered before noon July 1 if some of the teams going through a rebuild, and an eye on the Connor McDavid draft, might be strategic in how they manoeuvered to reach the cap floor, by signing players who wouldn’t really affect the teams’ results. One guess I had was that they might go after forwards who are all offence, put on a good show, sell tickets, but don’t lead to wins directly.

Conversely, such a team with a plan would stay clear of a veteran, proven goalie, who will steal you a few games, get you to a few shootouts, and might mean a climb in the standings for no real purpose, ultimately.

The Sabres might have been strategic this way. They got two veterans who’ll surround and support their flock of youngsters, they’ll keep the ship on an even keel, they got the Sabres to the cap floor, but they won’t manufacture meaningless wins.  They're not impact players, difference-makers, but rather loyal soldiers who work well within a team, at least at this stage of Brian's career anyhow.

4)  Losing Brian Gionta, the captain, Josh Gorge, an alternate, and Daniel Brière, a respected veteran, really hurts in the veterranship department, but it helps when we consider players like Andrei Markov, Tomas Plekanec, Brandon Prust and Travis Moen are still here.

Plus, Marc Bergevin was clear that he didn’t see a problem with his leader corps, just that they made the decision his young veterans were ready for more, to assume these roles, so the transition is something desired, not just something you have to contend with.

5)  Also, the Habs added Manny Malhotra to the mix.  Not a huge fan of his, but they loooooved him in Vancouver, even though I didn't quite see it. I think it’s a case of reporters getting to know a guy off the ice, and seeing what he brings to a team there. They get to like the guy personally, and it colours their perception of his performance.

Manny was let go by the Canucks’ Mike Gillis who was saying he was concerned for his health and safety out there, due to his limited vision, so I don’t know how much better he can be playing now.

Still a cheap, disposable contract, I was thinking more of a Matt Hendriks-type in this spot. But then, we had Ryan White, and we let him go, so…

6)  And speaking of reporters championing the players they get to know and like personally...

The TSN guys were really over-reacting over the Canadiens letting Brian Gionta walk, and trading Josh Gorges.  Pierre McGuire was getting all maudlin on us.

I think it’s Pierre LeBrun who stated he talked to a “Western Conference GM” who said he would have done the same thing, it’s the four years left on Josh's deal you have to worry about.

The Sabres were a perfect match, they needed veterans to shepherd their rookies, and to reach the cap floor.

I don’t know what the Leafs were thinking. They obviously want a huge change in their dressing room, and were putting a big value on what Josh would have brought.

7)  You have to wonder if the Canadiens' organization and its reputation took a hit, at least when it comes to the players, with the sideshow the Josh Gorges trade became.

It’s something that was mentioned by the talking heads on TSN, and I’m not discounting it. Marc Bergevin seems like a straight shooter, and there are never any rumours leaking out, he said it again today, he doesn’t work that way. He would have preferred that Josh be treated with dignity.

I think that some players who don’t pay too much attention will see this as another indication that ‘Montréal is a circus’, but those who do their homework will realize that it’s a Toronto thing, not a Habs thing.

8)  Speaking of it being a "Toronto thing", Darren Dreger let it slip that the rumoured player to come from Toronto in the Josh Gorges deal that fell through was in fact Cody Franson.

Big, right-handed defenceman, some offensive skill, he’d have checked a lot of boxes for us.

Glad Marc Bergevin was able to get a comparable player in Tom Gilbert, for free as a UFA, and get an extra 2nd rounder from Buffalo. That’s pretty much an even-steven deal, and we don’t have to barf seeing Josh in that putrid blue sweater.

9)  One point some Habs fans missed prior to July 1, when some of us argued that it should be Alexei Emelin who gets traded, is that Alexei has a full No Trade Clause this season and the next, and then a limited NTC the last couple seasons. So we weren’t really able to pick and choose, it had to be Josh. And I preferred to keep Alexei, I think he’ll have a much better season next year, since he's:

- Fully recovered from his ACL reconstruction.

- Playing on the left, better able to pivot and crank out some hits.

- Fully acclimated to the NHL by now.

10)  Thinking again about how the Leafs wanted to trade for Josh Gorges, and apparently were willing to give up much-hyped Cody Franson in exchange.  They’re really looking for a culture change in Toronto, so they probably putting a high value on Josh's leadership ability and style, on the effect he can have on a team. Get sourpusses like Dion Phaneuf and whack jobs like Nazem Kadri out of there, and add some more steady eddies and loyal soldiers.

And possibly, we’re undervaluing Josh’s leadership, although I’m sure the braintrust did its homework, and want to start handing off responsibility to the young veterans a little more, and how the departure of Josh and Brian Gionta factors in there also.  It's not easy to calculate, discrete values to add and subtract.

11)  I raised the question before, but did Marc Bergevin ask Andrei Markov to do more in this regard, to consider wearing the ‘C’. Is this something that was brought up during negotiations, or after the contract was signed?  Not necessarily to change who he is, but to no longer stay on the sidelines, and let others handle that stuff and just mind his own business, but rather to take a step forward when needed?

He'll always struggle with the media angle of the captain's responsibilities, but we saw Andrei play the mentor role for P.K., and on one occasion actively calm the kid down when he was agitated at the coaches and the refs while he was on the bench.

Maybe there's a way for the team to delegate a lot of the routine interviews, the scheduled media work of the captain, to other players, and allow Andrei to focus on the hockey side of things.  This would be a change from the Brian Gionta régime, he was always front and center when the media had to get their answers, but to modify it thus would obviously play to Andrei's strengths, and remove a potential reason for him to say no to the responsibility.

12)  We've discussed how the Canadiens didn't necessarily choose between Cody Franson or Tom Gilbert, they might have been angling for both, but the question also arises: did the Canadiens choose between Stéphane Robidas and Mike Weaver?  Both are veteran defencemen very near the end of their career, shoot right and are relatively undersized.

There is no question that Stéphane Robidas is the better player, both throughout his career and at this point in time.  Mike Weaver might be the better fit as the third-pairing defenceman to play penalty-kill minutes, and reprise his role as Josh Gorges-lite that he played so well during the playoffs.

The clincher though is that Mike Weaver signed a cheap one-year deal, whereas the Leafs had to dish out a three-year deal to Stéphane Robidas worth $9M.  Since both players are beyond their 35th birthday, these contracts are locked in.  Specifically, Stéphane Robidas can't choose to retire if he doesn't feel he can play anymore, what with the numerous injuries he's suffered through the years.  Or rather, even if he does retire, the Leafs still have to count his cap hit on their total.

So the choice would have been easy for the Canadiens: Stéphane Robidas is the better player, but Mike Weaver is the better option when you factor in their respective contracts, and their fit/roles on their team.

13)  Manny Malhotra signed early on July 1 by the Habs, will replace Ryan White as the fourth-line centre.  He's a more effective player, comes cheaply, but he’s not able to bring toughness, and he’s a leftie. All our centremen are now lefties, with Daniel Brière and Whitey gone.

George Parros will definitely be replaced now, I would wager.  Probably as August draws on, a veteran puncher will sign a cheap deal with the team.

14)  Brad Treliving, the Calgary GM, talked on free-agency frenzy day about how his younger players can “take the ice with confidence”, how they’d created an atmosphere where they can play without getting gooned, with Brian McGrattan and Kevin Westgarth and now the addition of Deryk Engelland.

George Parros, Douglas Murray and now Ryan White are gone from our roster.

It’s debatable whether that exists now in Montréal.

15)  You have to like what Christian Ehrhoff and Brad Richards chose to do. Both took smaller, one-year deals with contending teams, after getting bought out and not really needing a big pay day.

Christian Ehrhoff goes for one year at $4M to the Penguins, he’s much better value than what Matty Niskanen and Brooks Orpik signed for.

Brad Richards goes to Chicago on a one-year deal for $2M, plays second line centre behind Jonathan Toews, possibly with Patrick Kane.

Both will have a chance at a Stanley Cup, can maybe re-up long-term if the fit is right, or will be set for another bigger contract next season, when the cap rises and most teams have dealt with their cap crunch.

16)  Was it foreshadowing that Benoit Pouliot only came through intermittently on his phone interview with James Duthie on TSN, after signing his massive four-year deal with Edmonton? He was there, then he'd fade away, then he was back, then he cut out again…

17)  As an example of the Two Solitudes, a lot of the analysts on RDS, and many who were commenting on social media in French, felt that the Canadiens didn’t improve July 1.  I’m not sure what their expectations were, maybe they thought we had to replace Thomas Vanek and go from there.

My expectations didn’t include Thomas Vanek, just the roster we had at the start of last season. While we lost some leadership and experience, some scoring, with Brian Gionta, Josh Gorges and Daniel Brière leaving, I feel that the team is more balanced on the blue line, will be more effective without having to force Jarred Tinordi or Alexei Emelin on to the right side. I’m not as pessimistic about P.A. Parenteau. I think he can be an effective Top 6 winger, and he’ll play up to the circumstances.

We still need to address the toughness we lost with George Parros (the incarnation at the start of the season, before Colton Orr’s dirty takedown), Douglas Murray and Ryan White. I suspect Marc Bergevin isn’t in a hurry, he’ll let the market settle down and go bargain-hunting.

We’re not going to find a scoring winger easily, just like the Leafs may be in a bind trying to find their big #1 centre. We’ll have to go into next season with an imperfect team, but one that’s much stronger than two or three years ago.

18)  I am really happy with the moves by the Canadiens brain trust so far. Sensible moves, patching holes, upgrading the mix.

All reasonable, short-term deal. Glad we’re not in the Matty Niskanen market, with the five-year deal and huge money for a guy who had a good year playing with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Surprised that we added two right-shot defencemen, but I guess they didn’t want to hand a job over to Greg Pateryn and Magnus Nygren sight unseen.

19)  What I like is that the team now has a consistent, coordinated approach to drafting and development. As much as we hate the Bruins, their organization has done a good job of identifying what it wanted to accomplish as a team, and then going out and getting the players that mesh with that team concept.

Same with the Red Wings. They’re not trying to be everything all at once, they’ve played to their strengths, which is drafting, skewing towards Europeans in the later rounds, putting all their kids in a lengthy AHL stint before they’re graduated. They’re a skill team, they don’t goon, and they have clear leaders at the top of the hierarchy who run the team.

Marc Bergevin’s team seems to have a clear idea of what they want their team to look like, they have a goal in mind, and they’re working to that goal in concert.

20)  If we’re looking for toughness, for an enforcer, to augment Brandon Prust and Jarred Tinordi, I vote for a huge mean mother, someone like Steve MacIntyre that you sign at league minimum and send out when a Matt Kassian or a Colton Orr needs to be neutralized. There are a lot of these guys out there who can be put on the ice when needed, and taken out of the roster when we play teams interested in playing hockey, like Tampa or the Wings.

Or we could sign the unhinged Trevor Gillies. I wouldn’t mind it too much if he was on our side, beating Bruins upside the head with the stump of their bloody arms he just ripped out of their sockets.

21)  There are a few trolls who were uncharitable towards Josh during his tenure in Montréal, but most fans who wanted to trade Josh just disputed the cost-benefit equation. Most liked Josh, but wished he came cheaper.

I've posted before how the salary cap has transformed every hockey fan into accountants:
One unfortunate consequence of the salary cap system in the National Hockey League is that it transforms committed fans into vigilant custodians of the team’s payroll. Whereas before fans would harry their team’s ownership to pay whatever it costs to retain the hometown stars, nowadays fans are forced to take a stand on the wage a player will receive, as overspending on players decreases the likelihood that one’s team will be successful and championship material. In the days of the Guy Lafleur or Larry Robinson holdouts, every fan howled that the team made enough money to pay these guys what they wanted, and that they sure as hell deserved it. Especially if Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson are worth millions to the Rangers…

22)  So yeah, a tough business decision for Josh, unsavory but necessary.

You know the old joke.  A player tells another player that a teammate has been traded:

“Hey, did you hear Joe Somebody got traded?”

“Great trade. Who did we get?”

This is usually used when a dressing room cancer is sent packing. This in no way describes Josh, but with his cap-hit, and the glut of leftie d-men we have, I thought that almost any trade would be a good trade, allowing more time for Nathan and Jarred, and maybe for Alexei to play on the left also.

I think that’s the way most fans are reacting. Love Josh the person, respect his drive and effort, but think that him being sent packing solves a lot of our problems.

1 comment:

  1. Gorges' offence drove me nuts. And his "leadership" outside the room was a little suspect. I'm still worried that we'll seriously miss his play. Minute-eating is important and we'll find out if Gilbert can do it anywhere near as well as Josh did. He drove me nuts with the around the glass shots to nobody from the point but he also retrieved the puck well in his own zone.

    He may not have been worth almost 4 million a year for 4 more years with a large decline expected with age due to his style of play. He may have had no offensive aptitude. The habs may still be worse without him. I hope not, but they may.

    Tinordi is getting better but he had not reached "good" last year. Nygren and Pateryn have not shown that they can play in the NHL. Weaver and Beaulieu are a huge improvement over any other third pairing the habs iced last year, to the extent it may hide other changes as they did in the playoffs, but we may end up with one too few guys who can play hard minutes next year. Advanced stats suggest that Gilbert will be a huge upgrade but we'll see.